Home Institution

Illinois Wesleyan University

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Program Name

Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy


As terrorism expands and changes in this globalized world, women’s involvement in terrorist groups remains to be an object of fascination, particularly Western women who choose to join terrorist groups in the Middle East. This paper aims to reveal and analyze the motivations that women have for joining terrorist groups, without merely labeling them as delusional or misguided by men. While it is true that women have roles in many different terrorist groups, this paper chooses to focus solely Al-Qaeda and largely the Islamic State as they (and increasingly the Islamic State) are extremely important for today’s global security. Furthermore, the paper juxtaposes the differences in the motivations and recruitment between women from the West, and Middle Eastern women who are closer to the conflict areas. Ultimately, this paper finds that there is a vast amount of differing reasons why women choose to join Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. However, geography and historical context play a large role in these factors, thus showing a difference between motivations of women in the West versus women who are closer to the conflict in the Middle East. Overall, this paper finds that women have diverse and legitimate motivations and reasons for joining terrorist organizations, and female terrorists will continue to need to be researched and analyzed as terrorism evolves.


International and Comparative Education | Politics and Social Change | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance


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